Movie Review: Depp gets good 'n' vampy

As a vampire flick, Dark Shadows seems to have crept up a few years late.

While it looks a little like it's riding on the coat-tails of the Twilight movie franchise and TV series like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, it's actually a remake of creator Dan Curtis' 1960s and 1970s cult TV series.

Of course, there is still some novelty in watching its lead actor, Johnny Depp, tackle the bloodsucking role of Barnabas Collins.

The opening sequence explains how, in 1752, young Barnabas and his parents set sail from Liverpool, England, to start life anew in America's Maine region.

When business prospers, Mr and Mrs Collins decide to settle down for good, building a large mansion, Collinwood Manor, as family home. But when Barnabas spurns the affections of a servant girl, the family gets put under a curse.

Barnabas is transformed by witchcraft into a vampire and buried in a chained-up coffin six feet under, while his true love, Josette, hurls herself, in a trance, into the sea from a cliff.

The cliff scene with the silhouette of a gnarled tree, as well as the mansion's ornate furnishings, allows director Tim Burton, Depp's frequent collaborator, to exert his gothic aesthetics that have already surfaced in past films like Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).

But as soon as the setting moves forward to 1972, when Barnabas is dug out of the ground by construction workers, the gothic elements become intermingled with 1970s pop culture.

As Barnabas makes his way to Collinwood Manor, he discovers that his descendants are a dysfunctional family in an Addams Family sort of way.

Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the matriarch, who lives with his brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) under one roof. A live-in psychiatrist, Dr Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), is helping Roger's 10-year-old son, David (Gulliver McGrath), cope with the trauma of his mother's death. Elizabeth's own daughter Carolyn (Chloe Moretz) takes teenage rebellion to new heights.

There's also the caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), as well as David's newly arrived governess, Victoria (Bella Heathcote), who immediately catches Barnabas' eye for being a dead ringer for Josette.

Now if you expect a war of wits to erupt between Pfeiffer and Depp, you'll be disappointed. While there is an earlier hint of the two settling into an uneasy rapport in the story, Pfeiffer doesn't get much chance in the story to fire up and match Depp's charisma.

Even Heathcote's onscreen romance with Depp pales in comparison with a particularly campy love scene that Depp shares with Eva Green, who plays vicious witch and Barnabas' former flame, Angelique, with great relish.

There is some attempt to glean laughter from Barnabas' fish-out-of-the-water experience, like how the 18th-century man reacts initially with fear to modern technology like cars and electric lights.

As Barnabas goes about reviving the family business - in a sequence set to the incongruently upbeat ditty of The Carpenters' Top Of The World - the story never goes beyond the threat posed by a witch scorned.

The original TV series has been described as an "American gothic soap opera", but I have to ask, where are the dramatic plot twists?

In the end, one gets the feeling that the story premise (and even Depp's make-up) holds more potential than the screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).

Dark Shadows (PG13)
Fantasy & Comedy/ 113 minutes
Rating: 4/5 stars


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